Why are houseplants and gardens a concern?
Many homes are decorated with houseplants that add color, warmth, and natural life to rooms. Gardening is a popular way to enjoy the outdoors, grow plants and food, and beautify a yard. But because houseplants and gardens are common in our homes, yards, and neighborhoods, people may not be aware of the health hazards they may pose.
Indoors and outdoors, touching or eating poisonous plants can cause allergic reactions, skin rashes, illnesses, and even death if ingested in high enough quantities. Pesticides and herbicides used on lawns and in gardens can cause human health problems and disease. Many garden pests also pose human health threats. Gardening, if not done correctly, can also be responsible for back strain.
There are more than 700 poisonous plants in the United States. Three percent of all poisonings are plant-related, and plants are the second leading cause of poisoning in children. Plant poisoning can occur if you touch or eat a poisonous plant, or its leaves, fruit, or seeds.
Some of the most common and familiar poisonous plants are poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, which cause allergic skin reactions. If they are burned, airborne sap-coated soot can get into the eyes, nose, throat, and respiratory system. The most deadly poisonous plant is the castor bean plant, which contains a poison called ricin. Eating even one small castor bean seed can be fatal. Other poisonous plants and trees include mistletoe, oleander, elephant ear, philodendron, monkshood, foxglove, golden chain, Jerusalem cherry, laurel, chinaberry, nightshade, and water and poison hemlock.
Pesticides and herbicides may be used on lawns and in gardens to prevent, destroy, or reduce the severity of pests and weeds. Some pesticides are carcinogens, known to cause cancer. Some can cause birth defects, affect the nervous system, or irritate the skin and eyes.
Gardens may be home to many pests, which can be a health hazard to humans and animals, as well as destructive to homes and other buildings. Some garden pests sting, bite, or pose human health threats.
If you think you are having symptoms from eating or touching a poisonous plant, contact your health care professional.
For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.
Web Links from MedlinePlus (National Library of Medicine)
Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac
Common Plants: What's Poisonous and What's Not? (University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics) (PDF — 621 KB)
Gardening and Back Injuries (Texas Department of Insurance) (PDF — 440 KB)
Green Scaping (Environmental Protection Agency) (PDF — 2.06 MB)
Poisonous Plants (Texas A & M University)
Poisonous Plants (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)
Safe Urban Gardening (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences)
Chemicals and Houseplants
Are these chemicals in MY community?
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
Last Updated: February 21, 2013